Meet Me in Rochefort

 
or, How I Learned To Stop Worrying and Appreciate Musicals
 
Well, sort of.

meet_me_in

In anticipation of the first screening of the Cinematheque’s Fall season, Vincente Minnelli’s Meet Me in St. Louis (1944), I figured I ought to warm myself up to the cinematic genre with which I share the sourest of relationships: the musical.

I’ve never had much patience for musicals; I’ve always found them grating and/or ridiculous. I admit that this position is kind of fundamentally snobby, but I can’t help it: whenever I watch a musical, I find myself counting seconds and thinking about other things. Maybe I’m too generally pessimistic to see the appeal of films in which characters break into song at the drop of a dime and dance through the streets as if any situation would be considerably improved by putting on a grand ol’ show. Singin’ in the Rain annoys me, though by no fault of Gene Kelly’s.

But close-minded I am not, and so I’ve always been in the habit of subjecting myself to musicals on the off-chance that I’ll see one which really wins me over. I took the same approach with westerns, which I’d grown up thinking were racist and comically ahistorical; now I count two westerns (Anthony Mann’s Man of the West and Howard Hawks’s Rio Bravo) among my absolute favorite films.

If anyone finds themselves struggling with a similar predisposition, the remedy just may be the work of Jacques Demy. Until recently I’d always thought of Demy as Agnès Varda’s deceased husband and little more, but this summer I took the time to see his three most well-known films: Lola (1960), Les parapluies de Cherbourg (1964) and Les demoiselles de Rochefort (1967). Viewing this de facto trilogy in chronological succession, I found myself easing into the rhythms and mentality of musical appreciation.

demoiselles_de_rochefort

Les demoiselles de Rochefort, which I saw for the first time last night (and is available at, you’d never believe it, Four Star Video Heaven), is relentlessly cheery, optimistic as all-get-out, overloaded with pep and marked by some of the most overdetermined choreography I’ve ever seen on the screen. The transition from spoken dialogue to singing is rendered nearly imperceptible, and the film’s overall flamboyance is more endearing than ridiculous. Any absurdity seems self-conscious and too deliberate to take issue with. At 125 minutes in length, Les demoiselles is certainly on the epic side, but it breaks down nicely into more digestible chunks thanks to the ‘pause’ button. I’ve got two or three songs from the film stuck on repeat in my mind as I’m writing this. And the color design is, as anyone who has seen the film could tell you, otherworldly in every sense of the word. Having seen and appreciated this film, I’m definitely more inclined to give musicals a try than I was only a few months ago.
 
The point is that even I can be won over by one of the genres I loathe most. If you’re on the fence about coming out to see Meet Me in St. Louis (which obviously has a great deal in common with Les demoiselles de Rochefort), seriously consider watching some Jacques Demy this week. If you do, I’m pretty certain that I’ll be seeing you at the Cinematheque a week from tonight.
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